Stalemate broken in Tube dispute

Peace hopes rise as two sides agree to meet for talks after network is paralysed by latest stoppage
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The Independent Online
The first sign of a breakthrough in the London Underground dispute emerged last night after the capital endured another 24-hour Tube strike.

After a day in which the network came to a virtual standstill, causing transport chaos throughout London, management and the two rail unions agreed to meet at the conciliation service Acas for "exploratory" talks.

Negotiators now have nine days in which to reach a settlement before the next 24-hour walkout on 7 August.

A further five stoppages are planned over the succeeding weeks in a dispute over a one-hour reduction in the working week.

Until last night, London Underground had insisted that the argument should be resolved by an arbitrator, while the unions sought conciliation, a process whereby where officials at Acas liaise between the two parties and attempt to bring them into face-to-face contact.

Today's meeting, convened on the invitation of Acas, was planned to be a less formal process. The aim will to be discover if there is any possibility of agreement over a suggestion by management that there should be a two- year deal in order to avoid what seems to have become the annual round of industrial action on London Underground. Lew Adams, general secretary of the train drivers' union, Aslef, which began a series of day-long strikes and was later joined by the RMT transport union, said: "We welcome the opportunity of going to Acas to try an resolve this unfortunate dispute."

Just nine trains ran yesterday instead of the usual 441, with a million travellers switching to buses and others driving into the capital causing huge traffic jams.

Both unions said they had "clear ideas" over how a peace formula might be reached. So far, the unions have argued that a deal struck last year should have resulted in a one-hour cut in the working week. The unions contend that productivity improvements already achieved should trigger the reduction, but London Underground has insisted on fresh improvements in efficiency.

The party political battle over the conflict continued with Brian Mawhinney, Conservative Party chairman, urging Andrew Smith, Labour's new transport spokesman, to denounce the "hugely disruptive" action. Dr Mawhinney said: "Last year the two unions involved in the strike, Aslef and the RMT, gave more than pounds 200,000 to the Labour Party. That, in this case, seems to be the price of silence."

In the Royal Mail dispute, leaders of the 130,000 postal workers have delayed a final decision over a peace package until today.

The postal executive of the Communication Workers' Union called off a 48-hour strike due to begin tomorrow night but after a 12-hour meeting refused to agree a settlement. The CWU has led three day-long national stoppages in protest at a productivity package